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Can SIGG Salvage Its Name Post-BPA?

Last week, Steve Wasik, chief executive officer of SIGG Switzerland, made an astonishing admission: the company’s aluminum water bottles manufactured before August 2008 had been made with epoxy resin that contains bisphenol A (BPA).

“The primary reason that I am writing this letter today is because I believe that the BPA conversation has changed dramatically in the last 12 months,” Wasik said in a “bulletin” posted on the SIGG website. “Last year, the primary concern was that of BPA leaching from bottles. Since that time the dialogue has evolved such that now some people are concerned about the mere presence of BPA and some states are considering legislation.”

Which sounds a lot like – Oh, that BPA.

Wasik’s disclosure marks a stunning about-face. Back in March 2007, as other bottle makers were struggling to cope with the burgeoning furor over their use of plastics based on BPA, a synthetic sex hormone, Wasik posted a statement on the company website asserting, “We understand the controversy and concern surrounding BPA leaching from plastic water bottles and can assure you that SIGG bottles are leach-free and 100% safe.”

It’s hard to see Wasik’s posture as anything but cynical. To be fair, he didn’t say point blank that SIGG bottles contained no BPA. He said they didn’t leach BPA. He decided, on his own authority, that consumers didn’t want or need to know more.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

And if others failed to parse his artfully worded statements, he didn’t bother to correct them. His March 2007 reassurance to customers quoted an email from a consumer advocacy group that said, in part, “SIGG bottles do not contain BPAs.”

Around the same time, a SIGG public relations representative engaged in a heated dialogue with Environmental Working Group over the nature of SIGG’s liner wrote in an email that the company was seeking to “assure dealers, press and consumers that come to us asking questions that there is no BpA in SIGG products.”

Maybe the PR man didn’t know the facts. But Steve Wasik did. And he didn’t set the record straight.

The mistaken perception that SIGG bottles were BPA-free very likely boosted the company’s position in the growing reusable bottle market. Wasik, profiled by Fortune/Small Business Magazine as a “marketing whiz,” joined the Swiss company in 2005 and promptly launched a high-profile advertising campaign touting the company’s commitment to the environment and featuring eco-stars Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts. Wasik’s strategy paid off: in November 2007, Advertising Age reported that SIGG sales had spiked 250 percent between 2006 and 2007 and that U.S. outlets selling SIGG wares had multiplied from 400 to more than 1,300.

Not surprisingly, many consumers who bought SIGG bottles because they thought they could avoid dosing themselves and their families with BPA, which scientists have shown to disrupt the endocrine system and trigger a range of serious conditions, are now expressing outrage.

What’s the difference between drinking from a metal bottle with a plastic liner and a plastic bottle?

As far as we’re concerned – none.

To add insult to injury, in last week’s bulletin, Wasik informed consumers that he foresaw the BPA firestorm as early as mid-2006 and set out to develop a non-BPA alternative:

We recognized early that there were questions surrounding BPA and we wanted to be sure that we had a bottle liner that you, our customers, could have absolute confidence in. After two years of comprehensive testing and development and a one million dollar investment in new equipment for our Swiss factory, SIGG began producing bottles with our new, next generation “EcoCare” liner in August 2008.

“EcoCare,” he went on to say, is a “special powder-based co-polyester liner certified to be 100% BPA and Phthalate Free.”

Notice that he didn’t say what’s actually in EcoCare. That remains a mystery, just as the nature of SIGG’s pre-August 2008 lining was suspected but unconfirmed — until last week.

SIGG vs EWG

SIGG’s campaign to disassociate itself from BPA involved EWG. Back in March 2007, Wasik and his aides challenged an EWG report that said that “many metal water bottles, such as those sold by the brand SIGG, are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA.”

As it turned out, EWG’s information was right on the money. But within a day after EWG’s report went online, SIGG threatened to sue EWG for “damaging its brand reputation.”

Wasik demanded a letter that EWG had “no knowledge or information that SIGG bottles pose any kind of health risk.” The company refused to provide data to support this statement, so we politely declined.

However, since we had decided not to name the brands of canned food we had tested for BPA contamination, we removed SIGG’s brand name from our consumer guide on how to avoid BPA exposure.

Wasik posted his own statement on the SIGG website attacking EWG’s report. He added:

SIGG bottles are in fact lined with a proprietary non-toxic, water-based resin which has been refined over decades of study and is extremely safe & stable…. SIGG bottles have been thoroughly tested in Europe to ensure 0% leaching of any substance – no trace of BPA, BPB or any phthalates…We are upset about the misinformation which has circulated and are working feverishly to clear the good name of SIGG.

Wasik even disputed EWG’s description of SIGG’s bottle liner as “plastic.” It’s hard to understand why. Plastic is a generic term that encompasses a wide variety of flexible man-made materials. The “Facts on Plastic” website of the American Chemistry Council, the Washington-based lobby for the chemical and plastics industries, goes into great detail about epoxy resin, popularized during the Eisenhower era. In the same vein, the Society of the Plastics Industry website lists “epoxy” among a number of “plastic resins” whose makers and users are represented by the trade association.

Wasik’s blustery description of the unnamed “resin” in SIGG bottles now seems a disingenuous distraction. As his recent bulletin, also carefully crafted, makes plain, the stuff was nothing more nor less than epoxy resin, whose “key building block,” according to the American Chemistry Council, is BPA.

For many consumers, the question has transcended the issue of BPA.

It’s, can you trust this company?

And what about all those people who took Wasik’s reassurances at face value and bought SIGG bottles manufactured before August 2008? They deserve full refunds or replacement bottles. And they shouldn’t be stuck paying for shipping. Baby bottle manufacturers and companies like Nalgene have offered their consumers this service. Replacing those discredited bottles is the bare minimum the company can do as it strives to rebuild its tarnished brand.

Tell Steve Wasik what’s on your mind. The SIGG website says his email is Steve.Wasik.CEO@sigg.com. While you’re at it, ask him what’s in EcoCare. Let him know you’re interested in what it is, not just whether it leached in tests in Europe. Or whether, in his opinion, it’s “special.”

And, if you like, tell him it’s all about talking straight to people, not talking down.

UPDATE: Want to communicate directly with SIGG? You can comment on the company’s Facebook page.

Or, if you’re on Twitter, Steve Wasik is @SIGGCEO.

Photo: SIGG Switzerland


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30 Responses to “Can SIGG Salvage Its Name Post-BPA?”

  1. Way to go. You were right all along. There is no difference between a SIGG or Laken bottle lined with “plastic” (Laken’s is Nylon-6) and a plastic bottle. Both are also using virgin aluminum which probably has a higher footprint to manufacture than even plastic.
    Thanks for all you do.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Dear Real,

      Thanks for your support. Actually, our analyst Sonya Lunder contacted Laken, a Spanish company. Her report: Laken has been making a BPA-free liner since late August 2008. Prior to that, it did use a BPA-based liner but says, “We were very transparent about that.”

      Elaine Shannon

      • Mariposa says:

        Did Laken offer evidence of their transparency to consumers prior to the SNEWS story of August 19, 2009? They are making a lot of effort to be transparent now, but I don’t recall hearing about BPA in their liner in 2007 and 2008 when consumers were purchasing lined aluminum bottles to avoid BPA. I certainly never knew Laken’s old liner had BPA in it.

      • Sonya @ EWG says:

        Mariposa–Laken’s website says several interesting things:

        #1 they did detect BPA in leaching tests,
        #2 they actively passed this information on to retailers,
        #3 they would have told consumers as well, had anyone known to ask.

        That said, I agree that most people buying metal water bottles of any sort think that by doing so they are avoiding contact with BPA. So they were also clearly omitting a detail that was of critical interest to many of their consumers.

        you can read more from Laken at: http://www.lakenusa.com/home/bisphenol-a/letter-from-the-president-of-laken/

        - Sonya

  2. Shame on Sigg for their round-a-bout denials. Like a bunch of politicians they talked down to consumers hoping to confuse us. I never liked the non-answers they gave, which is why we never carried this brand in our online store.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Dear Sara/Mama —

      Thanks for reading. SIGG confused a lot of us, including me. As a journalist and working mom, I have a bad habit of scanning fine print, instructions, product labels. I instantly spotted the duck-and-cover behind Bill Clinton’s famous parsing — “”It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” But unlike you, I didn’t read SIGG’s non-denials before I stuffed the family stockings with aluminum bottles.

      To quote the great Peter Townshend, “Won’t get fooled again.”

      Elaine Shannon

  3. Elly Lonon says:

    I can’t tell you how angered I am by this whole thing…and my further frustration at how little press it’s getting. Thanks for increasing awareness.

    I will never purchase another SIGG product – despite their new and exciting claims. I have no confidence that their new “eco liner” is any safer than their previous BPA liner.

  4. Gina says:

    What disappointing news from a company that we really wanted to like – considering we have 8 Sigg bottles at home that are going back to the company. I’ve given them my money and my trust that they were providing a safe bottle for my family to drink from on a daily basis. There’s nothing they can do at this point to win either back. We’ll send our Siggs back and have them replaced – since that appears the only way to recoup some money lost. But we will not use the Sigg bottles in our house. We’ll donate the safe ones to charity and find alternate bottles for our family.

    Thank you, EWG, for looking out for our safety.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Thanks, Gina. Can people exchange bottles with SIGG ? How? I see nothing on the SIGG website offering an exchange, but maybe I’m missing something. Or, maybe customer service is informing individuals who call in that they can exchange bottles.

      But it seems only fair that SIGG ought to make a general announcement with clear instructions. A lot of SIGG’s customers probably have demanding, non-desk jobs and can’t go on the Internet, locate the SIGG customer service number, wait on line, jot down instructions and then pack and ship their bottles. I’m thinking about doctors, nurses, retail sales people, police officers, members of the armed services, construction workers, service personnel, teachers, and so many others.

  5. At first, I wondered how much of this issue was cultural. Sigg is a Swiss company, and the Swiss are famous for…secrecy. I can imagine a situation where the Swiss product developers and engineers felt very comfortable with their statements because of the cultural issues here. They knew it didn’t leach, so what did it matter? It was proprietary, right? Why disclose?

    But Sigg’s CEO, Steve Wasik, is an American, a grad of one of our finest business schools – Northwestern’s Kellogg. He should have known better. Marketing to Americans – and especially American MOMs – means you must be transparent. It’s a brave new world for consumer goods manufacturers.

    I feel sorry for those PR people – having worked in corporate PR, I’m quite sure they didn’t know and they were just following Wasik’s line. It was good you pointed that out.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Thanks, Lynn, for making the point about Americans’ demand for transparency. Mystique is fine by me when I’m buying a little black dress or a ticket to the latest Bond spectacle. But I think most of us want our consumer products straight up, not with a twist.

      Elaine

  6. Laura Hake says:

    I am appalled by this latest news from SIGG. I emailed them (liners@mysigg.com) and they sent me a mailing label for returning my bottles and a return form. I would have to pay for shipping for the return, but I would not have to pay for shipping “new” bottles to me (although I doubt I will get them for a variety of reasons, including lack of knowledge of the new liner and not wanting to continue to advertise for them.) They also sent a long message about how their bottles don’t leach BPA. They then pointed out the range of products that contain BPA. I felt like letting them know that I don’t drink from my CDs, DVDs or eye glasses, my dentist, and apparently many others, no longer uses sealants containing BPA, and I only use Eden canned foods (no BPA in liner), but at this point, I just need to calm down.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      BPA, an excellent plastic reinforcer, is used in polycarbonate safety helmets too. We’re all for safety helmets and also polycarbonate plastic safety glasses, own a bunch of both. We’re not worried about BPA in general industrial and commercial use. We do think it should not be in food contact items, because polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins have been shown to leach BPA molecules into the surrounding food and drink, especially when the plastic or resins are heated or when they come in contact with acidic substances like tomatoes or alkaline substances like detergeant.

  7. Nena Baker says:

    Great analysis, Elaine, of Sigg’s BPA blunder and bullying tactics. I’ve written a piece on Huffington Post about my break-up with my Sigg bottle, and Steve Wasik left a comment there. Unfortunately, it’s just more doublespeak and truth-clouding. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nena-baker/why-ill-swig-from-my-sigg_b_269603.html

  8. Condo Blues says:

    As a former PR and promotions professional I find this a facinating case study of what not to do when caught in a secret product change firesgtorm. True, may be cultural issues at play here, but when a produc sells to a global market, you have to take the culural norms, in this case, American’s desire for disclosure, seriously and market and promote occordingly.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Dear Condo, Great points. Nearly every week, we read about corporations and financial institutions that have to surmount major difficulties, from product recalls to petroleum spills to peddling gas guzzlers to scooping up risky derivatives like securitized sub-prime mortgages. (What were they thinking??) That’s why I — like you 00 don’t think this conversation is about water bottles. It’s about something much deeper — do our ways of doing business reflect our society’s core values?
      On that note, and nothing to do with SIGG, I commend to you Washington Post columnist Steve Pearlstein’s fine essay on corporate deceit, published August 5, on what businesses should have learned from the global financial meltdown. Pearlstein wrote, “It’s a good sign that the new team at the SEC decided to come down hard on Bank of America, but it will take more — much more — to transform a corporate culture now hard-wired for obfuscation. It’s not just that investors deserve better information about the companies they own. It’s also that executives will be less likely to make boneheaded mistakes if they know they can’t sweep them under the rug.”

  9. Candace says:

    You could try facebook. If you ask a “am I safe question” they will answer with more evasiveness and leave your comment up. If you challenge their ethics in issuing cynical and disingenuous statements, they will delete you.

    They also mocked consumers, particularly bloggers and moms, and then deleted the more offensive updates. However, I have the screen capture.

  10. Carl says:

    I have a couple of perfectly good stainless steel bottles without any liners. Mine were made by H2Go (and cost much less than SIGG bottles) but there are also others available. No need to take the risk of supporting SIGG if they won’t support us.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Thanks, Carl. SIGG’s not the only game. What are other folks doing about hydration on the go?

      • Scott J. says:

        I use two stainless steel bottles, and I find they work well for different purposes. One is a Thermos 500mL or 17 oz, which is double walled vacuum sealed, for carrying hot/cold beverages. The other is a bottle by Innate-Gear 850mL or 29oz, which is good for hydration throughout a day at school or work. I am impressed by the Innate bottle it seems like a hidden gem that not many have talked about.

  11. td says:

    Who cares?! Honestly! How many iterations of this have we been through?

    The microwave will cook your brain. Tupperware will kill you.
    Chocolate is good for you, no it’s not, yes it is, it causes herpes and autism, only non-organic chocolate is okay, only chocolate grown at an altitude of 100,000 feet is safe…

    I am so sick of this. Isn’t your concern if the BPA gets into your liquid? Well, it doesn’t leach, right? Get off your high horses and eat a hamburger. Or just drink out of a wooden cup… Better yet, wash your hand and drink out of them. Safest thing on the planet… unless you count the arsenic and prescription meds in your tap water… Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Toto and I can’t eat or drink on this planet full of hypocrites.

    • JB says:

      BPA is one thing but as everyone rushes to look at Stainless as an alternative, please remember that approximately 10-15% of the population is sensitive to nickel which is the main ingredient in making stainless steel. This will harm you alot faster than a lined aluminum bottle so make sure you know your body before you buy…

      Also, don’t forget about PVC as this is much more toxic than any water bottle lining…

      The Poison Plastic PVC (polyvinyl chloride), commonly referred to as vinyl, is one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash. Our bodies are contaminated with poisonous chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. New car smell? New shower curtain smell? That’s the smell of poisonous chemicals off-gassing from the PVC.

      What are you all really concerned about?

  12. This has been a hardship for our small company, which actually launched with the SIGG bottle on the heels of the I count for myEARTH campaign, which I developed. Since then, we’ve added many products. But we could always count on SIGG sales. We currently only carry the SIGG bottles with the EcoCare liner, but are considering pulling out altogether. You can read more about our struggle with the SIGG snafu on our blog: http://icountformyearth.wordpress.com

    JB–Good points. PVC is also in most if not all Igloo and off-brand drink cooler/dispensers.

  13. I discovered your web site when I was looking for something entirely different, but this page showed up at the top of Yahoo your website must be enormously popular! Continue the good work!

  14. AL says:

    Thank you for the pertinent information.

    I purchased a SIGG bottle with the eco-liner to replace my old one and it seems that it has been coming off the threads.

    Trying to find anything new about whether I can still use the bottle when the liner’s peeling away has been fruitless, but thanks to the other posters for other bottle options.

  15. Thanks for sharing the web link – but unfortunately it seems to be down? Does anybody have a mirror or another source?

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Dear Zoila — Thank goodness for alert readers like you. Yes, the link to former SIGG Switzerland CEO Steve Wasik’s August 2009 “bulletin” is down. As you’ll recall, this document, formerly attached to the SIGG-USA website, contained the stunning admission that SIGG bottles had contained a BPA-based epoxy resin lining. Stunning, because Wasik had previous implied that SIGG aluminum water bottles were BPA-free. Even thought the company switched to a non-BPA synthetic, Wasik’s handling of the affair was widely cited as a marketing debacle.

      We see from the SIGG website that Steve Wasik has left the company. The new CEO is Steven G.S. Taylor, formerly of Johnson & Johnson, a company that has generally received high marks for corporate responsibility.

      I took the precaution of downloading Steve Wasik’s now-famous bulletin while it was still on the SIGG USA website. It’s below. And you can still read Wasik’s apology for his initial missteps on the Huffington Post at this link.

      http://www.mysigg.com/bulletin/

      SIGG – Swiss Engineered Water Bottles

      A Letter From Our CEO

      August 2009

      Dear SIGG Customer,

      (STAMFORD CT) – Within the scientific community, the safety of the packaging ingredient bisphenol A (BPA) remains the subject of considerable debate and controversy as evidenced by the FDA meetings on the topic this month. For decades, BPA has been the industry standard for protective coatings – approved by food and health regulators around the world. One year ago, Andrew von Eschenbach, the Commissioner of the FDA, announced that, “The science we have reviewed does not justify recommending that anyone discontinue using products containing BPA.” At that time, SIGG Switzerland, the world leader in premium reusable bottles, had already made the transition into bottles that are BPA free.

      Within the reusable bottle water category, polycarbonate plastic bottles (#7) came under scrutiny in early 2008 because they were found to leach BPA. As a result, many consumers turned to metal bottles (aluminum and stainless steel) because these bottles had no issues with BPA migration. Prior to its transition, SIGG utilized a water-based epoxy liner which contained a trace amount of BPA. The bottles were thoroughly and regularly tested in both the USA and Switzerland and all tests revealed absolutely no migration or leaching of BPA or any other substance from the protective inner liner. These tests have been public information on the SIGG website for several years and remain there today.

      Despite the fact that these bottles were manufactured well within strict international regulations and posed no health risk, my team and I initiated a project in June 2006 to develop a new liner which would be both BPA free and produced in a more environmentally friendly manner. We recognized early that there were questions surrounding BPA and we wanted to be sure that we had a bottle liner that you, our customers, could have absolute confidence in.

      After two years of comprehensive testing and developme
      nt and a one million dollar investment in new equipment for our Swiss factory, SIGG began producing bottles with our new, next generation “EcoCare” liner in August 2008. Providing the same quality and protection afforded by the previous liner, this new powder-based, co-polyester coating has been thoroughly tested and is certified to be 100% free of BPA, phthalates, BADGE, BFDGE, and NOGE. It is also environmentally friendly as its application generates virtually no waste and utilizes no organic solvents or VOCs. Our new bottle liner is not only a technological advance; it’s a major step forward in SIGG’s journey towards sustainability.

      To be clear, all SIGG bottles made since August 2008 contain our new BPA free EcoCare liner. SIGG bottles manufactured prior to August 2008 have the former water-based epoxy liner which contains trace amounts of BPA. These bottles have been thoroughly tested and showed 0% leaching of BPA. It is easy to determine which liner you have, as they are of 2 distinctly different colors. Visit http://www.MySIGG.com/liner to see photos comparing the two.

      The primary reason that I am writing this letter today is because I believe that the BPA conversation has changed dramatically in the last 12 months. Last year, the primary concern was that of BPA leaching from bottles. Since that time the dialogue has evolved such that now some people are concerned about the mere presence of BPA and some states are considering legislation.

      I am proud to say that SIGG took action quickly back in 2006 to begin the development of a high performance bottle liner that is BPA free. In addition, we have developed this special section on our website that we will be updating regularly where you can find independent laboratory testing on SIGG and other bottle brands as well as an update on the BPA situation as it continues to develop. We want our current and potential customers to have the facts.

      SIGG is a Swiss company that has earned a reputation for quality over the last 100 years. Our success has been a result of ensuring that SIGG customers are always and completely satisfied with our products and our service. If you have further questions or comments please feel free to email me directly at:

      Sincerely,

      Steve

      Steve Wasik
      CEO, SIGG Switzerland

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  16. Hello- I am a SIGG Lover! Plain and simple- I have tried Klean, Nalgene, ECO, Camelbak- many types but always return to the SIGG-

    I have been a little dissapointed in the performance with the eco liner peeling off around the threads- I found on the mysigg site that you can return bottles with liner peel issues and sigg even eats the shipping- go to the faq section, you will see where sigg continues to take care of us out here….thanks so much to all the great posts out there!

  17. daodz says:

    SIGG deserves to boil in oil. Only caring about making it rich, how can they use the green name of the environment to fool people into thinking that buying their bottles is an environmental/green choice?! I used to love SIGG for its vision, but their vision is muddled with the other $GREEN$ initiative. I will never buy another SIGG product EVER. This is outrageous. And to try to cover it up, too? EWG had every right to list SIGG products as having BPA in it. Give me a break. The laws of this land protects all those greedy idiots out there.

    • daodz says:

      I just wanted to add a comment in response to SIGG’s CEO’s response. Investment in new equipment were made as early as 2006 because of known issues with their liner, yet they continued the sale of their product nonetheless. From that point until the release of their EcoCare product in 2008, much profit were made that unethically were made.